image by sarah mccoy photo

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

When Health Food Kills

"Such a tiresome illness is health, preserved by so much dieting." -Charles de Montesquieu

When you live in SoCal, this happens a lot: 
You are invited to a potluck where none of the guests has actual dietary restrictions.  Yet, one after another, people unwrap dishes and announce with pride, “AND its vegan AND gluten-free!”

In an average group, this fact is irrelevant at best, and at worst a hint at the dish’s mediocrity.  Unless you are serving a vegan with a gluten allergy, there is no reason to wear this like a badge of honor.

But this is SoCal.

And an Italian girl in SoCal craves the company of someone, anyone, who enjoys all that food was intended to be.  A symphony of flavors, a balm for a weary soul, a forger of filial bonds, a spark to kindle ancient memories, a foretaste of eternal glory.  Last and least, very least, a fuel for the human machine.

No one ever lingered for hours of laughter, songs and stories over portioned plates of kale and quinoa.

Biblically, food is used in rich, varied and sometimes emblematic ways.  And churches still enjoy the trusty potluck.  But often, I think that nutrition is also a subtle idol.  I hear moms sigh with relief that, no matter what else happened that day, at least they sneaked pureed dandelions into those muffins.  And while I get it, I like to cook fresh from my garden and I’m proud that there’s no veggie my kids won’t devour, I just think….maybe it’s a little much.  Maybe it shouldn’t be the primary gauge of our success and worth as parents or well-rounded people.  Maybe it shouldn’t be the way you headline your dish.

So if your “desserts” all start with a base of blended garbanzo beans, or if, before eating, you stop to consider What Would Cro-Magnons Do, or if you take in most of your calories all together in one big vitamixed tumbler, then just remember.  It isn’t only the glutton whose relationship with food is unhealthy. 

Everything, even nutrition, in moderation.

A quote from Frances Mayes on Italian meals among friends and family:

“At the call ‘A tavola!,’ to the table, you flush with pleasure; you are coming into a celebratory ambience.  Something wonderful is about to happen.  Food is natural, eaten with gusto.  It must affect your digestion if you think the first quality of pasta is that it’s fattening.  If the word “sin” is attached to dessert.  I’ve never heard of a dish referred to as “your protein” or “a carb,” and there’s no dreary talk at all about glutens, portion control, fat content, or calories.  Eating in Italy made me aware of how tortured the relationship to food is in my country.  After a long Tuscan dinner, I feel not only the gift of exceptional company, food, and wine, but also an inexplicable sense of well-being, of revival.  Dinner invigorates the spirit as it nourishes the body.”

Can your juice cleanse do that?